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While global health and policy efforts to protect young girls from early or forced marriage are increasing, millions of girls are forced into early marriage every year. Pictured: four Senegalese girls. {Photo credit: S. Galdos/MSH.}Photo credit: S. Galdos/MSH.

If you think that child marriage is not an issue in the twenty-first century, think again.  In developing countries, 82 million girls who are now ages 10 to 17 will be married before their 18th birthday. Over the past decade, 58 million girls in developing countries -- one in three -- have been married under the age of 18; 15 million -- one in nine -- were married by age 15.

These girls are often married against their will, despite national laws that prohibit marriage until the age of 18, and numerous international declarations, conventions, and global conferences that “guarantee” the rights of girls, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Senate Passes Preventing Child Marriage Act

Child marriage is increasingly becoming a hot topic within the realm of global health -- and influencing U.S. domestic and global policy.

The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S. 414) -- reintroduced in the U.S. Congress in February 2011 --- passed on the Senate floor by way of voice vote on May 24, 2012. (The bill also passed the Senate unanimously in December 2010.)

Scott Kellerman, around age 5. {Photo courtesy of S. Kellerman.}Photo courtesy of S. Kellerman.

The prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is taking center stage this week during USAID’s 5th Birthday campaign -- and rightly so.  Preventing mother to child transmission of HIV is one of the most critical, effective tools to helping kids reach their fifth birthdays.

Arifa leads a computer class at FACT in Guyana. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

When Arifa arrived in August 2010 at Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness (FACT), a USAID-funded non-governmental organization (NGO) that receives technical support from the MSH-led GHARP II Project, it was immediately evident that she had major communication challenges. At age 17, Arifa found it difficult to have even brief conversations with anyone.

The Berbice Technical Institute had sent Arifa to FACT as a work-study student for a two-month term. At the time, she was studying for a Certificate in Information Technology (IT).

FACT assigned Arifa to be an assistant teacher in their computer program with 40 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), ages twelve to fifteen. Most of the time, Arifa could be found sitting in a corner all alone. When she did speak, the children made fun of her.

The NCD Alliance announced today that delegates at the 65th World Health Assembly are likely to pass a historic target on chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) tomorrow, May 26.

The NCD Alliance, a network of over 2,000 civil society organizations, including Management Sciences for Health, urged delegates to "support comprehensive Global Monitoring Framework and Targets; support the establishment of a Global Coordinating Platform on NCDs; and put NCDs at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda."

Civil society call to action on universal health coverage.Civil society call to action on universal health coverage.

At the 65th World Health Assembly this week, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) and civil society organizations from three continents launched a joint call to action on universal health coverage (UHC). The statement -- initiated by Action for Global Health, Centre for Health & Social Services (CHeSS), Doctors of the WorldMedicus Mundi InternationalOxfamSave the Children, and MSH -- calls on political and world leaders, governments and ministries of health, and civil society to take a stand for UHC.

Three women gather outside a Tanzanian health center. {Photo credit: M. Paydos/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Paydos/MSH.

The 65th World Health Assembly is convening this week in Geneva, beginning May 21. For six days, the Assembly will focus the world’s attention on chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), universal health coverage, mental disorders, nutrition and adolescent pregnancy, among other health issues.

This is the second time in less than a year that chronic NCDs --- such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung diseases --- are in the international spotlight. Last fall, the High Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases convened in New York, when, for only the second time in the history of the United Nations, a high level summit focused on a global health concern.

Ms. Apegnon Akpene, a family planning client and role model, in Diguegue. {Photo credit: Niagia Santuah/MSH.}Photo credit: Niagia Santuah/MSH.

Apegnon Akpene is a 20-year-old mother of three children: four-year-old Joseph, two-year-old Romance, and one-month-old Akou Jacqeline. Since attending USAID's Action for West Africa Region, Phase II (AWARE II)  community health worker training, she has become a client of family planning -- and a role model for family planning in her community.

Akpene is one of three community health workers in Diguegue, a small village of about 800 people in the hills of the southwestern forest separating Togo and Ghana. Distance and difficult terrain are major hindrances to accessing health care for the inhabitants of the village. Diguegue is 47 kilometers from the nearest health facility, a small clinic, in the Prefecture of Tchifama. The village is served by a 12-kilometer dirt road that winds through the thick forest.

Akpene attended school for eight years. When she became pregnant at age 16, she was forced to drop out. She gave birth to three children within four years.

Honor your mother, support healthy moms, and help kids reach their 5th birthdays: click the image to donate {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Improving Child Health in Communities and at Home, the April/May 2012 edition of MSH's Global Health Impact newsletter (subscribe), features personal stories about child survival and child health in developing countries.

"Prevention, treatment and care close to the home are keys to saving children's lives," says Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, MSH president & chief executive officer, who blogs about saving children's lives through interventions closer to home, shares his 5th birthday picture, and encourages us to support USAID's 5th Birthday Campaign.

Stories about child survival and child health

The newsletter highlights a number of compelling stories from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, and Lesotho.

Trained in kangaroo mother care by Dipeta health center staff, Imukalayi snuggled tiny Mardochet to her bare chest, then wrapped herself and her son in a cloth pagne, and held him there for hours, shifting him only when he needed to nurse. Mardochet's weight stabilized just three weeks later. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Honor your mom today by supporting MSH's work to help support healthy mothers---like Imukalayi Eponga (right)---and their children around the world.

Support healthy moms and their kids.

Imukalayi was trained on "kangaroo mother care" by MSH in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kangaroo mother care is a simple technique that emphasizes human contact to keep the baby warm.

This year, 7.5 million children will die - 99 percent in developing countries. In Africa alone, 1 in 8 children will die before their 5th birthday. Two-thirds of these deaths are preventable.

For over 40 years, MSH has seen that when mothers receive low-cost, high-impact interventions-like kangaroo mother care training-their children will likely survive until age 5 and beyond.

MSH President Jonathan D. Quick, age 5. {Photo courtesy of Dr. Quick.}Photo courtesy of Dr. Quick.

Cross-posted on USAID's IMPACT blog

My most vivid early childhood memory is waking up to excruciating pain in my throat, and seeing the goldfish swimming in the aquarium of the pediatric surgical ward. Although penicillin had been discovered 30 years earlier, doctors had not learned yet that treating "strep throats” with penicillin was better than operating. I didn't need the tonsillectomy. But, I was lucky to receive quality care in a health facility, close to my home.

Millions of children today are not so lucky. Over 7 million children under the age of 5 die each year; 70 percent of child deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. The vast majority -- over two-thirds -- are entirely avoidable with existing safe, effective, low-cost prevention and treatment.

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